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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 29. A Blessing
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 29. A Blessing Post by :dmindia Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3161

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 29. A Blessing

CHAPTER XXIX. A BLESSING

Miss Egerton took Arthur Noel--for it was he--straight back into her little sitting-room, and sitting down on her worn little horse-hair sofa, and raising her eyes anxiously to the young man's face, she told him the story of the attic upstairs, of the furniture she had purchased, of the girls she had meant to serve. She showed him, with hands that trembled, the envelope with its queer inscription, and she unfolded for his benefit the empty sheet of blank paper. She told her story at once without any reservation, even relating with a little hasty blush how she felt obliged to pay for the furniture herself.

Perhaps Arthur Noel was the only person in the world to whom she would have made this confession; for she was one of those who made it a practice never to let her right hand know what her left did, but she had known Arthur from his boyhood, and he was one of those men who inspire trust and sympathy at a glance.

He listened to the story with interest, and even excitement--he was naturally enthusiastic, but even Miss Egerton had never seen him so perturbed and so moved as he was at present.

"I know about those girls," he said at last; "what are their names?--I am sure I know about them. Nay, let me ask you a question--Is not one called Jasmine? Has she not a piquant face, and very soft and yet bright eyes, and a great lot of curly brown hair? Yes, Miss Egerton, I am sure the girls you speak of are in a certain sense _my girls; for if they are the ones I mean I took them under my protection long ago."

"Their name is Mainwaring. My dear Arthur, where and how have you met them? My dear boy, I fully believe, I have always believed, in your good intentions, in your wish to do your utmost for every one; but if you have really known Primrose, and Jasmine and Daisy, and have taken them, as you say, under your protection, I must say that of late you have lost sight of them--you have not been as kind as you generally are to people in difficulties, for I never met three more absolutely friendless girls than these."

"It was a good Providence sent me here this morning," said Noel. "You are quite right, Miss Egerton; I did lose sight of the children. I tried to follow them, but they managed to hide themselves most effectually. Think of my coming up to see you this morning, with a message from Mrs. Ellsworthy, and finding that our lost lambs are all but safe in your kind fold. How relieved my dear mother-friend will be!"

"Mrs. Ellsworthy is the kindest and best of women," said Miss Egerton; "I will receive your message presently, Arthur, but you puzzle me more and more when you tell me that she too knows my girls. I came across them quite accidentally. They called to ask me to give Jasmine lessons in English composition, and I took a fancy to them, and, in particular, felt drawn to the little one--for she reminded me of--, but no matter! The girls have been in and out of my house ever since. I saw that they were fearfully independent, but in many trivial ways I tried to help them. Well, Arthur, it is most surprising--it is altogether incomprehensible, but never during the months we have been seeing each other daily have they alluded to you or the Ellsworthys. They seemed perfectly unconstrained, and chatted many times of their cottage home in the country, but they never spoke of the Ellsworthys."

"They would not be likely to do," answered Noel. "I think, Miss Egerton, I must now tell you Mrs. Ellsworthy's and my side of the story."

Certainly Miss Egerton appeared to neglect her duties that morning; fortunately, her school had not yet re-opened, but Bridget waited for orders, and the tradesman left the house unattended to. Bridget knew that Miss Egerton was always greatly taken up with Mr. Noel, and she had to admit that he was a bonny-looking young man with a pleasant face; but Bridget hitherto had given her mistress credit for always putting duty before pleasure. What, therefore, did her present neglect of household management mean?

Arthur Noel had a long story to tell, and Miss Egerton listened, weighing each point, and not giving too undue sympathy to either party. Noel was of course enthusiastic in Mrs. Ellsworthy's cause, and announced his intention of going to see her that very day.

"She is in town," he said; "and if you give me the girls' address I can bring her to them this afternoon."

But here Miss Egerton laid her thin hand on the young man's arm.

"No, Arthur, I won't betray their secret, poor little dears! they may have been headstrong, and silly, and rash, and, poor children, they may fail utterly, but they have not failed yet by any means, and if they wish not to be tempted into a luxurious and dependent life, even by the kindest friend, I, for one, will stand by them. You have come on me by accident, Arthur, and have learned about the girls by accident; you have no right to tell what you have thus discovered. I have studied those girls' characters and I know that Primrose at least would die of a broken heart if her independence were taken from her. No, Arthur; if you wish really to help them you must put them in the way of earning their own living, and in this manner the Ellsworthys can doubtless assist, for they are rich, and have influence."

Then Miss Egerton and her guest had another long and earnest discussion, at the end of which time a compromise was arrived at. Noel might tell the Ellsworthys that he and Miss Egerton knew where the girls lived, and the Ellsworthys might give in-direct help by aiding him in his efforts to find suitable work for Primrose and Jasmine--he too, could be their open and acknowledged friend, and he arranged with Miss Egerton to call and see them that very afternoon.

Finally, Miss Egerton again drew his attention to the envelope, which was only given to mock, as it contained nothing but blank paper.

Noel examined it carefully.

"This must have been given to the girls by Mr. Danesfield, the banker at Rosebury," he said. "I know him well; he is the last person who would play them such a trick. Don't you think, Miss Egerton it is quite possible that this envelope may have been opened, and the money removed?"

"But the envelope does not look tampered with," answered Miss Egerton, turning it round, and examining it carefully.

"Thieves are very clever," answered Noel. "It is easy to open an envelope by holding it over steaming water."

"But Primrose always kept this letter locked up in her trunk."

"Well, I will settle the point by writing direct, and in strict confidence, to Mr. Danesfield. In the meantime let us say nothing to Miss Mainwaring; and you will let me pay for the furniture, kind friend."

But Miss Egerton's face flushed brightly, and she drew back a step or two.

"No, my dear boy, I cannot. Since I drew that cheque I have felt strangely happy. I think this very small act of self-denial will bring me a blessing, and I don't wish to be deprived of it. Good-bye, Arthur; come to see me again at three, and I will take you to my girls."

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